A draft bill adopted in first reading by Pakistan’s National Assembly is now before a standing committee. Tabled by a six-party politico-religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal or MMA, the Apostasy Act 2006 which the government sent to the committee would impose the death penalty on Muslim men and life in prison on Muslim women in case they leave Islam. It would also force them to forfeit their property and lose legal custody of children.
During the same session, lawmakers rejected another draft bill moved by minority MNA Bhandara which sought to amend the existing blasphemy law.
“This situation is unfortunate and sad. We demand freedom of conscious, religion and expression in Pakistan, and this bill is contrary to the principle of freedom of choice”, said Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha, head of National Commission for Justice and Peace and chairman of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“Because international human rights charters give every individual the right to change his or her religion according to his or her conscience, we hope and pray that this bill will not be passed,” Mgr Saldanha said.
Should the bill become law anyone who leaves Islam for another religion can be sentenced to death (if male) or life in prison ‘until repentance occurs’ (if female).
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